Duplication of Jewish Names at the Beginning of the Modern Era

Hebrew names ('Dov') and secular names ('Ber') have been features of the Jewish naming tradition for hundreds of years. However, this hasn't always been the case. How did the name duplication tradition develop? Why did it do so, and under what circumstances? This research seeks to outline the attitudes towards secular, or foreign, names and their use, as uniquely expressed in Galicia in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Our research will examine the attitudes of the Jews to their gentile surroundings through the prism of foreign names: the emergence of these names; their adoption by Jews and attitudes towards them, through the analysis of Halakhic texts. Naming ceremonies, the manner in which names were used and the relationship between the Hebrew name and the foreign name can reveal a great deal about the complex structure of Jewish-Gentile relations.

Our research primarily draws from the Responsa literature, Rabbinic adjudicators and the “Shemot Gittin” compendium – a literary genre that developed in the 16th century, intended for use as a “professional” work which instructs on the precise composition of divorce documents. This corpus serves as an excellent source for our research, as it provides a packed treasure trove for the study of names used among Jews, how to write and pronounce them, and for examining the complex relationship with foreign names. The appearance of names on the Get (Jewish divorce contract) provoked intricate and detailed discussions on how names should be written. Studying these discussions can help us understand not only how names were written and their prevalence, but also the complex and principled attitudes towards foreign names.

Secular names

We will investigate this topic using the writings of well-known figures such as Joel Sirkish (the “Bach”, 1561-1640, Krakow); Joshua Höschel ben Joseph (“Magine Shelomo”, 1578-1648, Lviv-Krakow); Gershon Ashkenazi (“Avodat HaGershuni”, 1615-1693, Krakow-Vienna), Menachem Mendel Krochmal (“Tsemah Tsedek”, 1600-1661, Krakow-Nikolsburg); and others. In their responsa and their commentaries, we can see how the subject of how to relate to foreign names is brought up in all its complexity and the various rulings on this issue.

Among the questions the investigation will consider are how names are created; how secular and holy names fit into the naming ceremony and their respective significance for the Jewish community; and how names appear in secular contexts – gentile records and secular documents – as opposed to holy contexts – Aliyot (being called to the Torah), gravestones, and the Ketuba (marriage contract). An additional and broader question intertwined with this investigation pertains to the nature of the relationship between a Rabbi and his community: does the Rabbi, through his rulings and involvement, influence and mould his community, or does he merely reflect the state of affairs thrust upon him?

Through the prism of these questions surrounding how foreign names were perceived, we will attempt to illustrate the fresh sensitivity to the issue and reconsideration that transpired among the Galician communities in the 16th and 17th centuries regarding foreign and secular names and their use.